Preaching with a plan
Summer is often the time when preachers sketch out plans for the coming year’s sermons. One of the easiest ways to manage this process is to plan a preaching series.
These can come in various forms:
1 Preaching a whole Bible book one chapter at a time
The advantage: the congregation gets to experience the unfolding message of a whole Bible book, and the preacher knows what they are preaching week by week.
The disadvantage: the congregation can feel that they are hearing the same kind of message every week, especially if it is a long Bible book, and the preacher can get bogged down.
A good example of a series of books that help preachers guide a congregation through a whole Bible book is the excellent God’s Word for You series from the Good Book Company. This series is of a consistently good standard. One of the stand-out volumes is Andrew Wilson on 1 Corinthians
2 Preaching thematically
The advantage: there is a measure of variety for the congregation and the preacher and the messages can be tailored to fit the circumstances of the congregation at any given time.
The disadvantage: if not handled carefully such a series can difficult for congregations and preachers to navigate. Preaching thematically can be subjective and “use” Scripture to support the preacher’s agenda rather than allow the Bible to set the agenda.
A good example of a book based on a series of sermons is 12 Things God Can’t Do by Nick Tucker
Pulpit giants throughout the centuries have adopted both methods to good effect.
For many years I followed a pattern suggested by Timothy Keller of using three terms a year to preach sermons on the themes of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For the Father term we looked at Isaiah, Hosea, Job and Psalms 90–106.
For Jesus we focused on the four Gospels.
For the Holy Spirit we concentrated on various discipleship themes from the New Testament letters and the Sermon on the Mount.
For the longer biblical books this meant carefully choosing passages for a series, but generally we were able to do the shorter letters in their entirety.
The terms were punctuated by distinct Advent, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost sermons. The summer was a time for one-off sermons, or a thematic series, like the five-week Whole Life Worship resource from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, a selection of the Psalms, or another on key defining words in human life.
Perhaps in all of this process, it is important to remember why we are preaching at all.
Preaching seeks to glorify God by faithfully communicating his word to our hearers. The circumstances and needs of the hearers should be a major consideration of what a preacher decides to preach. Preaching is not about preachers getting things off their chests; it is about serving God and his people.
Every year I find myself praying, “Lord, show me what will be the most timely and useful message from Scripture for these hearers in this season”.